Category Archives: Information

Don’t Run Your Government On Cryptocurrency

On February 2, 2022, Mayor Francis Suarez tweeted: “I’m so excited to announce that the @CityofMiami has received it’s first-ever disbursement from @mineCityCoins totaling $5.25M. This is a historic moment for our city to collaborate with an innovative project that creates resources for our city through innovation not taxation.”

Quartz reported (on May 16, 2022) that MiamiCoin’s creator, an organization called CityCoins, has been no less enthusiastic, portraying the coin as a financial experiment that will empower citizens with a “community-driven revenue stream” while spurring new digital city services.”

According to Quartz, CityCoins announced a similar cryptocurrency for New York in November 2021, and plans to release a coin for Austin, Texas soon. Other cities have launched their own crypto ventures: Fort Worth, Texas, for example, will soon be running bitcoin mining rigs in city hall.

How did cryptocurrency work out for Miami? Quartz explains: Over the last nine months, however, MiamiCoin has lost nearly all of its value, falling about 95% from its September peak to just $0.0032 as of May 13. Its rapid descent has burned investors on the way down, muting the dreams of Miami’s city leaders, and possibly raising red flags for regulators now investigating cryptocurrency transactions.

On April 19, 2022, Mayor Francis Suarez tweeted: “As President of the @usmayors,we’re leaning into this next era of American innovation. Today’s eGov Summit Crypto Panel at @eMergeAmericas welcomes everyone to learn the fundamentals of crypto and the impact this technology will have on democracy!”

Houston Chronicle reported that The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which manages the state’s electrical grid, is projecting that the explosion in cryptocurrency and other “large load” operators could bring as many as 16 gigawatts of new electricity demand by 2026. That’s about a quarter of the grid’s current capacity and enough to power 3 million homes on a summer day.

Will that work? According to Houston Chronicle – For a state that failed so spectacularly to secure the power supply during last year’s winter blackouts, piling on more demand will be a critical new test, especially in the face of climate change. Last week alone, unseasonably high temperatures drove electricity demand to midsummer levels. Late Friday, the state asked Texans to conserve power after six natural gas-fired power plants tripped offline.

The Atlantic reported about the recent “Crypto Crash”. From the article: …As fear and interest rates spike, investors are selling off their positions and billions of dollars of value are being erased from the industry. By one estimate, more than $200 billion of stock-market wealth has been destroyed within crypto alone, in just a matter of days…

In my opinion, if that much crypto wealth can be so quickly erased, there is absolutely no valid reason for state (or federal) governments to decide to make cryptocurrency into the thing that is going to – supposedly – fund everything. All of it could be gone in the blink of an eye, depending on the market.

Google Announces Pixel Buds Pro

Google posted on The Keyword “Loud and clear, Pixel Buds Pro are here”. The post was written by Product Manager Nidhi Rathi. Pixel Buds Pro look like earplugs with a large bulb that sticks out of them. My best guess is that this is Google’s way of competing with Apple’s Earbuds.

Have you heard? Google Pixel Buds Pro are here. These premium wireless earbuds with Active Noise Cancellation bring you full, immersive sound – now that’s music to our ears. Pixel Bud Pros are built to work great across our full Pixel portfolio and with other Android phones, and they’re packed with all the helpfulness and smarts you expect from Google.

The Keyword states that you can pre-order Pixel Buds Pro on July 21 for $199. To use them requires a device that runs on Android 6.0 or newer.

According to Google, Pixel Buds Pro uses Silent Seal to adapt to your ear, to help maximize the amount of noise that’s cancelled. And built-in sensors will measure the pressure in your ear canal to make sure you’re comfortable even during long listening sessions.

Once you’re listening to your music or podcast, Volume EQ will adjust the tuning as you turn the volume up or down – so highs, mids, and lows consistently sound balanced. Later this year, Pixel Buds Pro will also support spatial audio. So when you watch a spatial audio-supported movie or TV show on compatible Pixel phones, you’ll feel like you’re in the middle of the action.

Pixel Buds Pro come in four different colors: Coral, Lemongrass, Fog, and Charcoal.

Google says that Pixel Buds Pro charge wirelessly and give you up to 11 hours of listening time or up to 7 hours with Active Noise Cancellation turned on. However, there is a footnote that points out “Use of other features will decrease battery life. Battery life depends on device, features enabled, environment and many other factors. Actual battery life may be lower.”

How does Google’s Pixel Buds Pro compare with Apple’s Airpods?

Google’s Pixel Buds Pro – $199
Apple’s AirPods 2nd generation – $129
Apple’s AirPods 3rd generation – $179
Apple’s AirPods Pro – $249

Battery Life:
Google’s Pixel Buds Pro – Up to 11 hours of listening time or up to 7 hours with Active Noise Cancellation
Apple’s AirPods 2nd generation – More than 24 hours with charging case / 5 hours of listening time on one charge / 15 minutes of charging provides up to 3 hours of listening time
Apple’s AirPods 3rd generation – Up to 6 hours of listening time with one charge / Up to 30 hours of total listening time with the charging case
Apple’s Air Pods Pro – More than 24 hours of battery life with the MagSafe Charging Case/ Case compatible with wireless chargers/ Up to 4.5 hours of listening time with one charge/ 1 hour of listening time on only 5 minutes of charging

Google’s Pixel Buds Pro – Coral, Lemongrass, Fog, Charcoal
Apple’s Air Pods – White

Intuit To Pay $141M Settlement Over “Free” Turbo Tax Ads

The New York Attorney General, Letitia James, announced a record multistate agreement with the owner of TurboTax, Intuit Inc. (Intuit), for deceiving millions of low-income Americans into paying for tax services that should have been free.

The press release continues: As a result of Attorney General James’ agreement, Intuit will pay $141 million in restitution to millions of consumers across the nation who were unfairly charged. In addition, Intuit must suspend TurboTax’s “free free free” ad campaign that lured customers with promises of free tax preparation services, only to deceive them into paying.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia have signed on to the agreement. New York will receive more than $5.4 million for the 176,000 New Yorkers who were tricked into paying to file their federal tax return.

According to New York Attorney General Letitia James, “Intuit cheated millions of low-income Americans out of free tax filing services they were entitled to. For years, Intuit misled the most vulnerable among us to make a profit. Today, every state in the nation is holding Intuit accountable for scamming millions of taxpayers, and we’re putting millions of dollars back into the pockets of impacted Americans. This agreement should serve as a reminder to companies large and small that engaging in these deceptive marketing ploys is illegal. New Yorkers can count on my office to protect their wallets from white-collar scammers”.

According to ArsTechnica, Intuit “used confusingly similar names for both its IRS Free File product and its commercial “freemium product”, ran search ads “to direct consumers who were looking IRS Free File service to the TurboTax ‘freemium’ product instead,” and “purposefully blocked its IRS Free File landing page from search engine results during the 2019 tax filing season”, the settlement announcement said.

The Associated Press reported that until last year, Intuit offered two free versions of TurboTax. One was through its participation in the Internal Revenue Service’s Free File Program, geared toward taxpayers earning roughly $34,000 and members of the military. Intuit withdrew from the program in July 2021, saying in a blog post that the company could provide more benefits without the program’s limitations.

Considering all of this, it appears that Intuit was hoping to provide more “benefits” to the company itself. They got greedy, and appear to have intentionally hidden the IRS Free File away from people – who were tricked into believing Intuit’s version was also free. And now, Intuit is paying for it.

The press release from the New York Attorney General’s Office states: Under the agreement, Intuit will provide restitution to nearly 4.4 million consumers who started using TurboTax’s Free Edition for tax years 2016 through 2018 and were told they had to pay to file even though they were eligible to file for free using the IRS Free File program offered through TurboTax.

Consumers are expected to receive a direct payment of approximately $30 for each year that they were deceived into paying for filing services. Impacted consumers will receive notices and a check by mail.

NVIDIA Fined $5.5 Million For “Inadequate Disclosures” About Cryptomining

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced they had settled charges against technology company NVIDIA Corporation for inadequate disclosure concerning the impact of crypto mining on the company’s gaming business. The press release includes the following:

“The SEC’s order finds that, during consecutive quarters in NVIDIA’s fiscal year 2018, the company failed to disclose that crypto mining was a significant element of its material revenue growth from the sale of its graphics processing units (GPUs) designed and marketed for gaming. Cryptomining is the process of obtaining crypto rewards in exchange for verifying crypto transactions on distributed ledgers. As demand for and interest in crypto rose in 2017, NVIDIA customers increasingly used its gaming GPUs for cryptomining.

“In two of its Forms 10-Q for its fiscal year 2018, NVIDIA reported material growth in revenue within its gaming business. NVIDIA had information, however, that this increase in gaming sales was driven in significant part by cryptomining. Despite this, NVIDIA did not disclose in its Forms 10-Q, as it was required to do, these significant earnings and cash flow fluctuations related to a volatile business for investors to ascertain the likelihood that past performance was indicative of future performance.

“The SEC’s order also finds that NVIDIA’s omissions of material information about the growth of its gaming business were misleading given that NVIDIA did make statements about how other parts of the company’s business were driven by demand for crypto, creating the impression that the company’s gaming business was not significantly affected by cryptomining….”

CNBC reported that NVIDIA will pay $5.5 million as part of a settlement with the SEC that it did not properly inform investors about how cryptocurrency miners were stoking demand for its graphics cards. According to CNBC, NVIDIA failed to disclose how cryptocurrency mining drove growth in the second and third quarters of 2018, which took place in 2017, the SEC said in a filing.

In 2021, NVIDIA announced a change to their RTX 30 series cards. The purpose was to nerf them so that the card would be less desirable to people who use them for mining cryptocurrency. According to NVIDIA, their GeForce RTX 3060 graphic cards were shipped with a reduced Ethereal hash rate.

At the time, I wrote that this change could make it easier for gamers to not only obtain NVIDIA cards, but also to use them for their intended purpose – playing video games. I remember people being very frustrated that they could not find the NVIDIA cards they wanted in stores – and that the price for them (when found) was too high.

ArsTechnica reported about the aftermath of the 2017-era crypto bubble, when NVIDIA missed earnings expectations and lost billions in stock market value because of a collapse in demand for GPUs. The popping of that cryptomining bubble also led to a glut of inventory that retailers had trouble moving, even after price cuts.

Google Removed Over 3.4 Billion Ads in 2021

Google posted their 2021 Ads Safety Report. The information was posted on Google’s Ads and Commerce Blog by VP of Product Management, Ads Privacy and Safety, Scott Spencer. The annual report describes Google’s efforts to prevent malicious use of their ads platforms.

The blog post states that in 2021, Google introduced a multi-strike system for repeat policy violations. They added or updated over 30 policies for advertisers and publishers including a policy prohibiting claims that promote climate change denial and a certification for U.S.-based health insurance providers to only allow ads from government exchanges, first-party providers and licensed third-party brokers.

Google says that they removed over 3.4 billion ads, restricted over 5.7 billion ads and suspended over 5.6 million advertiser accounts. They also blocked or restricted ads from serving on 1.7 billion publisher pages, and took broader site-level enforcement action on approximately 63,000 publisher pages.

In addition, Google says it “doubled down” on their enforcement of unreliable content. They blocked ads from running on more than 500,000 pages that violated Google’s policies against harmful health claims related to COVID-19 and demonstrably false claims that could undermine trust and participation in elections.

Google also added a feature to their advertiser controls that allows brands to upload dynamic exclusion lists that can be automatically updated and maintained by trusted third parties. Google also made targeted improvements to the publisher approval process that helped Google better detect and block bad actors before they could even create accounts.

CNET reported that of the 3 billion-plus ads that were removed, over 650 million were pulled for abusing the ad network, while 280 million violated rules on adult content. Other reasons for removal were related to trademarks, gambling, alcohol, health care and misrepresentation. Google also prevented inappropriate ads from showing up on nearly 2 billion publisher pages, and over 600,000 individual publisher sites received enforcement action.

Apparently, Google has made efforts to remove your personal information from Google Search. Google will remove the following: non-consensual explicit or intimate personal images, involuntary fake pornography, “about me” content on sites with exploitative removal content, select personally identifiable information (PII) or doxing content, images of minors from Google search results, and irrelevant pornography from Google search results for your name.

They will also remove content for legal reasons, such as DMCA copyright violation reports and child sexual abuse imagery.

Overall, Google’s efforts sound like a good thing. I want to believe that Google is returning to its “Don’t Be Evil” motto. Nobody wants the types of unfortunate content listed above to be on the internet – for everyone to see – and Google should have started removing that long ago. Seems they finally got there! I also like that Google has been weeding out the bad ads that are full of misinformation. Most people don’t enjoy watching or viewing ads. The least Google could do is get rid of the worst ones before they go live.

Better late than never: Budweiser pulls out of Russia

Within twenty-four hours of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while governments were still contemplating what actions to take, companies began announcing their exits from Vladimir Putin’s country. None of the government hand-wringing slowed down corporations and Anonymous from taking a stand on the situation. 

Now, Budweiser is jumping on board the wagon, more than a month since the invasion first occurred. Before faulting the company, it’s best to step back and take a larger view of the situation. The brewer didn’t have its own choice, the one to blame is more likely the parent company. 

Budweiser is currently owned by Ab Inbev a company that formed from the merger of a brewing company based in Belgium and one based in Brazil that occurred in 2004. In 2008 that company then purchased Anheuser Busch. 

So, the conglomerate has finally reached the decision that it will cease business ties with Vladimir Putin’s nation. Yes, it was slow, but let’s still be thankful that the move was made because every little bit helps. And believe it or not, some companies are still continuing the practice. We won’t name them in this story, but there are several places online that keep a compiled list of them, so you can easily find out the names and make your own purchase decisions, if you so choose.  

PayPal Expands Services to Allow Users to Send Money To Ukrainians

PayPal announced that it is expanding its money services to help Ukraine humanitarian efforts. In short, it is offering specific services that will enable people to provide help. It also included a step-by-step way for Ukrainian people to set up a PayPal account.

As the crisis deepens, there is an ever growing need to help people in the region access critical humanitarian funds. PayPal is rolling out an expansion of its services available in Ukraine to provide its customers with ways to send money quickly and securely to friends, family, and loved ones.

There are new services that PayPal has made available to the Ukrainian people:

Friends & Family P2P Payments: New and existing Ukrainian PayPal account holders will be able to send and receive peer-to-peer (P2P) payments from friends and family and to transfer funds from their Ukrainian PayPal Wallet to an eligible Mastercard or Visa debit or credit card.

Transfer Funds from PayPal Wallet: Ukrainian customers who receive money from friends and family in their Ukrainian PayPal Wallet will be able to transfer these funds to their bank account by linking an eligible Mastercard or Visa debit card, or to an eligible Mastercard or Visa debit card.

Waiving of PayPal’s Fees: In an effort to provide customer access to critical funds, PayPal will be temporarily waiving its own fees for customers sending funds to Ukrainian PayPal accounts. Xoom, PayPal’s international remittance service, is also waiving transaction fees for payments sent to recipients in Ukraine. Fees charged by a customer’s card issuer or bank may still apply.

TechCrunch reported: The announcement from PayPal follows a request from the Ukrainian government asking the payment company to roll out new services that would allow people in the country to receive access to payments. According to TechCrunch, PayPal shut down services in Russia earlier this month.

PayPal’s new services appeared after Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine and Minister of Digital Transformation, Mykhailo Federov, made his request to PayPal. On March 17, 2022, Mykhalio Federov tweeted: “Welcome to Ukraine! @PayPal, @Dan_Schulman, thank you for supporting Ukraine and peace!” The tweet included a copy of a letter that PayPal sent to “Deputy Prime Minister Federov”.

Mykhalio Federov followed up with another tweet: “Now we are waiting for you in Ukraine @Stripe [winking smile face emoji]”

I’m not a big fan of PayPal, but I am happy that the company is doing a good thing for the Ukrainian people. Maybe this will set a precedent for how PayPal responds when war breaks out somewhere else in the world.